‘The Hunger Games’ Review
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bently, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Pleasance
Plot: Set an indeterminate time into the future, when the United States is now the nation of Panem, each of the twelve working class districts must offer a young boy and girl as tribute in The Hunger Games – a fight to the death televised for the decadent inhabitants of the Capitol.
Review: The Hunger Games is a movie with a lot of attention on it as a result of the growing and increasingly fanatic fanbase that has sprung up around the book series. With such intense scrutiny and a horde of detail obsessed viewers ready to pick it apart (there have been complaints about the main characters backpack not being ‘orange’ enough) it would be easy for a film like this to falter under the pressure or a push to make the existing fans happy.
The end result is a perfect example of how to adapt a novel. Not a perfect example of a film (more on that later) but a great example of how to adapt a popular book to the big screen. Firstly, the characters have been very well cast. From Lawrence as Katniss down to the roles that only have a brief amount of screen time such as Kravitz as Cinna, everyone feels as though they have walked of the page and into the real world. Not only do they bear a striking resemblance to how the characters have been described but they are capable of embodying what make the character distinctive. Elizabeth Banks, usually a one-trick pony, disappears into the delightfully shallow and naive Effie and her banter with Harrelson’s gruff and moody Haymitch provide some of the best scenes in the movie. Some casting directors are happy to settle on the first actor who looks the part regardless of talent or range (yes, Twilight, I am looking at you). The Hunger Games could not have done better in assembling both a group of young performers whose agents must be wading through job offers come morning and a team of more experienced actors who take on the secondary roles with a fierce dedication.
Part of the intrigue in the book series came from Panem being a deep and well thought out world and the directors attention to detail on the screen and in the script draws this out for the film. From the desperate slums of District 12 to the circus-like fashion obsessed denizens of the Capitol everything looks like it’s grown out of a long history. Glimpses of the cities monuments do more than present a bright, futuristic city but a place that has existed. The technologies and the rituals feel natural and it’s easy to lose yourself in the experience. The set and costumes designers have done an amazing job making more than just a functional background but a real society.
Thematically the movie hits the nail on the head. Instead of forcing ‘The Message’ down the viewers throats director Ross utilizes quiet, poignant moments to spark a thought in the mind of the viewer, a welcome approach after so many films rely on characters speaking every thought out loud. A stand out moment occurs when Heymitch, the survivor of a previous Hunger Games, watches a child excitedly unwrapping his toy sword and using it to attack his sister. The film is littered with clever moments such as these that bring hammer the point home. Stanley Tucci is downright brilliant as Ceaser, the host of the games, putting a face on the televised aspect of the slaughter and perfectly mimicking the attitude of modern reality shows and violence obsessed news channels. Using Tucci and Bentley (the director of the Games) to open the movie, discussing the games before contrasting the glitz of the television show with the poverty of District 12.
With much of the novel being told from the point of view of Katniss, who is often alone and thinking to herself, the director is faced with the challenge of how to communicate details about what is going on in the arena to the viewer. It would be silly to have Katniss talking to herself or starting a voice-over (yes, you, Twilight) to explain Tracker Jackers, canons and whatnot. Instead they’ve opted to cut away to Ceaser in the studio, usually alongside Toby Jones as the Games producer, discussing the facts. These inserts hammer home the reality television aspect of the event, and the degree to which the slaughter of youths is used as entertainment for the tacky masses. Also welcome are the scenes inside the control room for the games, featuring a good-for-the-first-time-since-American-Beauty Wes Bentley that gives everything an added element of realism. The inclusion of the beginning of a revolution against the Capitol gets hinted at, a smart move in linking the events of this film directly to the rest of the series.
Whilst the above sounds like unfiltered gushing – and it is – this is not a perfect film. Ross has developed a caffeine-powered camera with all the expected side-effects in that it never stops jumping around. Combine this with the almost constant close-ups and fast edits and it’s sometimes indecipherable for anyone not currently on speed to follow. This makes sense for some of the more intense action sequence but when a character is jogging along a road it’s overkill. This is one aspect of the film that Ross could have eased off a little.
The ending is shockingly abrupt with everything getting tied up with almost a montage-like efficiency inside of about ten minutes once the game is ended. For those not expecting the first part of a trilogy this is going to seem confusing. As annoying as it normally is, slapping a big “To Be Continued” on the end would’ve worked nicely given the note that they end on. Now for the most petty complaint we will allow – it constantly seems strange that the boys of impoverished mining sector District 12 have such ready access to hair product. Even after hours spent lying in the mud on contestant still has perfectly styled hair. It’s silly, but it’s distracting.
For those wondering how the extreme violence from the book is handled in a film that is marketed towards a younger audience, think along the lines of the shower scene from Psycho. You see the axe swing, see the blood splatter and a body fall to the ground, but no footage of a weapon making contact. While this sounds as though all the killing happens of screen, it’s remarkable the details that the human imagination will fill in. It proves that subtlety can be just as effected as tipping buckets of gore on the camera – more so if well handled. The stunned silence in the cinema is testament to the effectiveness of the blood bath than begins the Hunger Games.
To surmise, it hit the nail on the head.
Score: NINE outta TEN